At New Orleans-based Ochsner Health, patients are priority No. 1, and they serve as a compass for what staff does.
Ochsner’s digital health programs began as solutions for the health system itself and for its communities. However, the health system quickly expanded the programs to consumers, employers and payers with the goal of applying innovation to healthcare gaps in access to care and specialty expertise.
Telehealth at Ochsner began more than a decade ago with a pediatric echocardiogram program to help bridge a gap of geographic and specialty disparity across the state of Louisiana. There simply were not enough pediatric cardiologists to treat the rural population.
Over the next 10 years, hospital-based programs in telehealth for stroke, psychiatry and ICU were developed with partnerships across several states. And Ochsner has made significant investments over the last four years in building out direct-to-consumer telemedicine care delivery.
Empowering patients to manage their health
“Our direct-to-consumer model allowed us to expand our reach to new patients as well as strengthen our relationships with existing patients – bringing virtual care to the home, leisure and employer spaces,” said Dr. David Houghton, medical director for telemedicine and digital medicine at Ochsner Health. “The patient experience provides convenient access to care with products and services that empower patients to manage their own health.”
Recognizing a high morbidity and mortality rate across the country, and particularly in Louisiana, led to the addition of digital medicine. Ochsner Digital Medicine is a clinically proven program pioneering the way healthcare treats chronic conditions such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
“Digital medicine helps individuals manage their chronic conditions from home while staying connected to a dedicated care team that monitors their digital device readings while driving personalized results through lifestyle coaching and medication management,” Houghton explained.
“Ochsner partners with vendors that market the highest quality and easy-to-use products,” he continued. “Patients invest in connected devices to further enhance the virtual care experience and self-management. Chosen devices and software integrate well with Ochsner’s platforms across our health system. Our focus is to offer something accessible, available, affordable and appropriate for the patient’s high level of care.”
These vendors include Epic, TytoCare, Philips, Apple Health Kit, Amwell, iHealth, Vidyo, AvaSys and others.
Virtual care improves provider satisfaction
“While our virtual care programs enhance patient care, bring a delightful experience and reduce costs, they also can improve provider satisfaction,” he said. “Recognizing burnout among frontline workers in our hospital system over the last several years, the opportunity to ‘mix it up’ and see patients in different settings for both the provider and the patient has been most welcome.”
Notably, Ochsner’s technology array is one conduit that has allowed the health system to quickly respond to patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Because of our established telehealth programs, we had the infrastructure in place that quickly allowed us to connect patients in their homes with providers in our facilities without a hitch,” Houghton noted. “Ochsner performed more than 300,000 virtual visits in 2020; 90,000 provider-to-provider encounters across our health facilities and partnerships.”
The digital medicine program has experienced triple digit growth year over year and now has reached more than 15,000 enrolled and onboarding patients.
A soaring Net Promoter Score
Houghton noted patient satisfaction with telehealth and digital medicine at Ochsner Health, which received a Net Promoter Score of 87.5 out of 100. By comparison, he noted, Amazon received a 62 and Netflix a 68.
“While the technologies and the digital devices support outcomes, they are not directly attributable in isolation,” he explained. “It is our digital health infrastructure as a whole that creates value – clinical, financial and patient satisfaction – and drives results.”
In the spring of 2020, Ochsner Health was awarded $1,000,000 for telehealth services and devices to serve high-risk patients and vulnerable populations in Louisiana and Mississippi to treat COVID-19 patients and slow the spread of the virus to others.
“Funding for our digital health programs removes or minimizes one more barrier for the patient, i.e., the financial obligation to participate in the program,” Houghton said. “This funding will allow Ochsner to expand its offering of the Connected Maternity Online Monitoring, or Connected MOM, program. This program helps expectant mothers access care and treatment and monitor vital signs outside clinical settings.”
Non-emergent care with near-immediate access
Ochsner also will use the funding to distribute connected TytoCare diagnostic devices under Ochsner’s direct-to-consumer urgent and primary care Ochsner Anywhere Care program. This program is designed to remove barriers to care for patients and providers alike by allowing non-emergent medical visits to happen with near-immediate access.
Through this program patients are able to download a mobile application on their own mobile devices and meet with healthcare practitioners through videoconferencing. It enables healthcare practitioners to send prescriptions electronically to a pharmacy of the patient’s choice and to provide the patient with a post-visit report in a portable format.
“Funding for connected diagnostic devices, such as wireless blood pressure cuffs and glucometers, and remote monitoring services within the digital medicine program will significantly increase Ochsner’s capacity to serve patients,” Houghton said. “This established program offers a comprehensive continuous care model to manage chronic disease virtually, using connected digital tools.”
Patients submit regular home-based digital readings from a connected device linked through a smartphone or tablet, and these readings are automatically transmitted to the patient’s electronic health record. Together, using evidence-based guidelines, he concluded, the care team can provide each patient with individualized, proactive, preventive interventions to manage their chronic disease.